Texas attorneys are given a great deal of responsibility when they receive their licenses to practice law - and they are held to correspondingly high standards of conduct. Disbarment, the most serious professional penalty possible for a licensed attorney, means you'll no longer be able to practice law in Texas.
In general, the Texas State Bar only opts to suspend or disbar attorneys who have committed serious, intentional offenses; lesser penalties such as reprimands are used for lesser offenses. Here are a few common ways to put your Texas license to practice law in jeopardy.
Falsifying or Mishandling Evidence
Presenting false testimony - or hiding true testimony - undermines the very purpose of the court system, which is to render fair and just judgments based on facts of law. As such, attorneys who fail to meet their obligation to disclose relevant evidence or outright present false or tainted evidence as legitimate are in danger of disbarment.
In one recent high-profile case, a former prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, was disbarred for his conduct in the trial of Anthony Graves, who was accused of being involved as an accomplice in setting a fire that killed six people.
Robert Carter, who had already been convicted of the murders, told Sebesta that he had acted alone and that Graves was uninvolved. Sebesta failed to disclose this information to the defense. Sebesta also presented false testimony and made a false statement that caused the witness who would have corroborated Graves' alibi to leave the court without testifying.
Graves was convicted due to Sebesta's misconduct and spent 18 years in prison before being exonerated. The Board of Disciplinary Appeals described Sebesta as having "unclean hands" due to his misconduct.
Violating Duty of Care
Attorneys hold a particularly high duty of care to their clients, which is called a fiduciary duty of care. Negligent breaches of that duty of care are usually resolved in civil court with a lawsuit by the client against the attorney. However, intentional breaches of the fiduciary duty of care can lead to State Bar complaint and possible license suspension or disbarment.
For instance, attorneys are often given responsibility to hold clients' funds in trust accounts. Taking funds from those accounts for personal use is cause for disbarment. An attorney who takes payment for legal services that are not actually rendered and refuses to refund the money can be accused of defrauding the client, which again could lead to disbarment.
As such, any potential suspension or disbarment is a serious matter for an attorney. If your license is in danger, you have likely been accused of a major offense, and you will need a vigorous defense to protect your legal career.
Attorney Tony R. Bertolino is a top-rated lawyers' lawyer based in Austin and serving all of Texas. Contact the legal team at BERTOLINO LLP today.